United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
February 15, 2015, Vickie Powers applied for disability
benefits, alleging disability beginning on October 1, 2014.
(Tr. at 24) Ms. Powers' claims were denied initially and
upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a
hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
denied Ms. Powers' application. (Tr. at 36-37) Ms. Powers
requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's
decision, but that request was denied. (Tr. at 1) Therefore,
the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the
Commissioner. Ms. Powers filed this case seeking judicial
review of the decision denying her benefits.
The Commissioner's Decision:
found that Ms. Powers had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of October 1, 2014.
(Tr. at 26) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ
found that Ms. Powers had the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease, status post anterior cervical
discectomy and fusion, osteoarthritis, bilateral carpal
tunnel syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, fibromyalgia,
headaches, depression, and anxiety. Id.
finding that Ms. Powers' impairments did not meet or
equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 26), the ALJ determined
that Ms. Powers had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at the
light exertional level, with some limitations. (Tr. at 29)
She could only occasionally work overhead with bilateral
upper extremities. Id. She could only occasionally
stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. Id. She could
perform simple, routine tasks with only incidental
interpersonal contact with the public (no sales or
solicitations and a limited amount of meeting and greeting).
Id. And she could tolerate only occasional changes
in a routine work setting. Id.
found that Ms. Powers was unable to perform any past relevant
work. (Tr. at 35) At step five, the ALJ relied on the
testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find,
based on Ms. Powers' age, education, work experience and
RFC, that she could perform work in the national economy as
production assembler and marker. (Tr. at 36) The ALJ
determined, therefore, that Ms. Powers was not disabled. (Tr.
Standard of Review The Court's role is to determine
whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by
substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d
1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000).
evidence” in this context means “enough that a
reasonable mind would find it adequate to support he
ALJ's decision.” Slusser v. Astrue, 557
F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009)(citation omitted). In making
this determination, the Court must consider not only evidence
that supports the Commissioner's decision, but also,
evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court cannot
reverse the decision, however, “merely because
substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.”
Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997)
Powers' Arguments on Appeal In this appeal, Ms. Powers
maintains that the ALJ's decision to deny benefits is not
supported by substantial evidence. She argues that the ALJ
should have included manipulative limitations in the RFC
based on carpal tunnel syndrome; that the ALJ should have
included limitations on concentration, persistence, and pace
in the RFC; and that the ALJ improperly discounted the
opinion of Kevin Diamond, M.D., Ms. Powers' treating
claimant's RFC represents the most she can do despite the
combined effects of all credible limitations; and the RFC
must account for all credible evidence. McCoy v.
Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). In
determining a claimant's RFC, an ALJ must establish, by
competent medical evidence, the physical and mental activity
that the claimant can perform in a work setting, after giving
appropriate consideration to all of the claimant's
impairments. Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 418
(8th Cir. 1996).
Powers argues that because the ALJ ruled carpal tunnel
syndrome to be a severe impairment, he should have included
manipulative limitations in the RFC. The problem with this
argument is that a diagnosis, standing alone, does not equal
disability; rather, there must be evidence of a functional
loss that shows an inability to engage in substantial gainful
activity. See Trenary v. Bowen, 898 F.2d 1361, 1364
(8th Cir. 1990). Ms. Powers has not shown a functional loss
due to carpal tunnel syndrome. She did not complain of hand
pain regularly to her doctor and did not seek specialized
treatment. A diagnostic test revealed mild-to-moderate
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome in August 2016. (Tr. at 689,
700) Objective tests that show mild-to-moderate conditions do
not support a finding of disability. Masterson v.
Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 738-39 (8th Cir. 2004). The only
treatment Ms. Powers alluded to with respect to carpal tunnel
syndrome was that she wore wrist splints at night. (Tr. at
77) She did not have surgery on either hand. (Tr. at 77-78)
The need for only conservative treatment contradicts
allegations of disabling pain. Smith v. Shalala, 987
F.2d 1371, 1374 (8th Cir. 1993). The medical evidence does
not demonstrate a requirement for manipulative limitations in
Ms. Powers' RFC.
mental allegations, the medical evidence likewise fails to
support RFC limitations on persistence, pace, and
concentration. Ms. Powers admitted she did not seek mental
health treatment, although the record shows very brief
treatment at Families Inc., in November of 2016. (Tr. at
703-719) The failure to seek regular and continuing treatment
contradicts allegations of disability. See Gwathney v.
Chater, 104 F.3d 1043, 1045 (8th Cir. 1997). Ms. Powers
had normal mental status exams in May 2014, ...